Skip to comments.Inflection Point (Is the new Microsoft XBox 360 a Dell-killer?)
Posted on 05/13/2005 11:50:04 PM PDT by HAL9000
This Week Changed the World of High Tech Forever, Though Most of Us Still Don't Know It
It's an expression made popular in Silicon Valley years ago by Andy Grove of Intel: "inflection point." It's that abrupt elbow in a graph of growth or decline when the new technology or paradigm truly kicks in, and suddenly there is no going back. From that moment, the new stuff takes off and the old stuff goes into rapid decline, whether it is a new standard of modem, a new video game, a new microprocessor family, or just a new idea. I think we've just hit such an inflection point and -- though most of us still don't realize it -- the personal computer, video game, and electronic entertainment businesses will never be the same.
There are three pieces to this puzzle. First, as I noted last week, Bill Gates deliberately blabbed some details about the next xBox game system, which is to be officially announced this week. This gaffe, which I don't believe was a gaffe at all, came for specific reasons that are still not clear, but the implications of Gates' remarks ARE clear -- that xBox 360 will perform many functions that currently require a home computer. Not only will xBox 360 play video games, it will play music and movies, surf the web and probably even offer a non-PC platform for voice-over-IP.
What message does this send to Microsoft's hardware OEM customers that make home computers? What is Microsoft saying to Dell, HP, Gateway, and others? For all the customer bullying we saw proof of in the Department of Justice's anti- trust case against Microsoft, one thing the kids in Redmond never did was propose to undercut their hardware OEMs by building a Microsoft PC. But now that's precisely what Gates has proposed, and it is coming in time for this Christmas.
I don't know why Microsoft would make this move at this time. Maybe the game business has become more important to them than home PCs, maybe some particular advantage over the PlayStation3 just has to be touted, Maybe Microsoft feels at a disadvantage to Apple's upcoming movie service. Whatever the reason, there is no going back now: Microsoft is in direct competition with its own customers.
The second inflection point this week was made by Google with its Google Web Accelerator. The company has generally downplayed the Accelerator as simple research -- a test that required a few thousand users. But it is much more than that. First, Google hasn't yet announced a beta, and then changed its mind about what it's beta testing. Every Google service that has begun as a beta turns eventually into an official extension of the Googleplex. Froogle, their comparison buying service, isn't going away, nor are image and video search or GMail. The same goes for this Google Web Accelerator.
The application itself isn't anything new. It is precisely like the Web Page Accelerator (WPA) application that was the key component of the old Starband satellite broadband service I used for awhile when I lived out in the wilds of Sonoma County. WPA was intended to overcome the inevitable latency of that 89,200 mile double round trip required to fetch any web page over the geosynchronous satellite connection. It did this by anticipating the user's next page request and delivering that in advance in a compressed form. For every Starband (and DirecWay) user, there is a proxy session at the satellite downlink location utilizing more computing power than the Starband or DirecWay user probably has on the desktop being served.
The only differences between WPA and Google's Accelerator is the lack of a satellite, and Google's willingness to offer the service ultimately to any Internet user. This is an absolutely brilliant strategy -- brilliant both because of the staggering technology effort it represents and brilliant because it promises -- as does any inflection point -- to change things forever.
Think about the scale of Google's eventual effort here. With efficient caching, let's say that Google can get away with devoting half the power of the average home computer to each active user. In the U.S. that's 200 million users, though of course they aren't all active at once. But there will be worst-case moments every week when a lot of them are active at once, so I'd plan for 60 million simultaneous users, which means 30 million desktop equivalents, which has to be vastly more than Google's present 200,000+ servers offer. No wonder there has been all this talk about Google buying-up dark fiber. They are going to need it.
But why? Why spend all this money, make this heroic effort, just to make web surfing twice as fast? The first reason is because Google can do it. The company likes big stretches like this. The second reason is because everybody else CAN'T do it. The technology required is so breathtaking and audacious that even a Microsoft or IBM wouldn't dare to try it and certainly Yahoo won't. The best Yahoo can hope for is that Google fails, which they probably won't. And the final reason for doing this is because it co-opts every ISP and web page owner. If surfing can be doubled in speed for nothing, of course nearly everyone will go for it. But that means every AOL customer becomes a de facto Google customer and this page becomes a de facto Google service that costs them nothing to produce.
The big question is where Google will go with this? Will they put ads on this page? Will they eventually put AOL and MSN and Earthlink out of business? Only Google knows. But what I DO know is that the Google Web Accelerator effectively turns every user into a thin client, whether they know it or not. Consider the obvious upshots of this. If Google adds power to its part of the Accelerator, you don't have to add power to your end, meaning your old PC can last longer. Part of that has to come from Google assuming a larger role over time, taking responsibility for rendering Flash, for example. And they'll do it. And we'll let them. At some point, Google might even offer its own hardware device, optimized for the Accelerator. At that point, you'll buy your PC from Google, use Google as your ISP, surf an Internet that is really the Google cache, be fed ads and sold content from Google servers. Its a GoogleWorld that requires no AOL, no Microsoft, no Intel, no HP or Dell -- only Google, cable companies, telephone companies, users, and of course advertisers and web page producers.
There is no going back.
Inflection point number three comes from Apple, where it is finally becoming clear just how the company is about to remake the music and movie businesses.
But first a few words about Yahoo's new $6.99 per month music subscription service. The most interesting aspect of this offering to me is the price -- $6.99 per month -- which has to reflect the actual cost of providing such a service. Yahoo can afford to do this for no profit, but they can't afford to do it at a loss, so the difference between $6.99 and $14.99 shows just how much profit there probably is for Rhapsody and Napster -- a LOT.
Yahoo is trying to do three things at once. It is trying to kill the iTunes pay-per-title pricing model, replacing it with the subscription model that has emerged as preferred by the record companies. And at $6.99 Yahoo's move has to worry Apple. The second thing Yahoo is trying to do is to take out Rhapsody and Napster. Both other services probably will have to match Yahoo pricing, but neither has Yahoo's deep pockets. Real, for one, has to be looking for a buyer and will probably find one in Microsoft. And finally, Yahoo is trying to position itself as the premier media company for the 21st century. If it works for music, movies, TV, and video games will follow and Yahoo will have turned its huge user base into a retail channel.
Maybe it will work, maybe not. It is audacious, to be sure.
Now to Apple. A Slashdot poster (it's in this week's links) purporting to be an Apple employee dropped a couple tidbits that fill-in the blanks for understanding Apple's still unannounced movie download service. The man or woman said that Apple would be fudging somewhat its definition of High Definition video to save bandwidth and required processing power, starting instead of 720p-24 with half-HD and anamorphic 720-by 486 (look in the links for what anamorphic means). Apple may well offer those sub-HD versions of HD, but from the music videos they are already starting to offer in HD I think they'll offer 720p and 1080i, too. Remember, the real market is download-and-play, not streaming.
The more interesting item in this Slashdot post, however, was the idea of Apple doing a video equivalent of its AirPort Express WiFi repeater that has audio output to link iTunes to your stereo system. This AirPort extension is the last piece needed for Apple's video service and answers a lot of questions. Why doesn't the Mac Mini have an optical audio port? Because the AirPort has one, instead. Why isn't the Mac Mini more powerful? Because it doesn't have to be. The Mini becomes a storage and downloading device and H.264 decoding is handled in the AirPort gizmo using one of the H.264 hardware decoder chips coming on the market for around $20.
So Apple takes over video and movies while Yahoo threatens with a low-priced music subscription service and Google threatens to take control of, well, everything.
And Microsoft? Microsoft kicks the dog.
(Denny Crane: "Sometimes you can only look for answers from God and failing that... and Fox News".)
Why will Google need telephone companies in the emerging VoIP world? A world in which Google will control the most massive telephone directory (and yellow pages) on earth, and telephone numbers have become utterly obsolete.
Phone company, schmone company. Bosh.
Yet another reason for Google's dark fiber.
(Denny Crane: "Sometimes you can only look for answers from God and failing that... and Fox News".)
Have you seen the new Sony PSPs (handhelds video game/movie machines? They are awesome .
Microsoft is going to take a big chunk of low-end marketshare from Dell and the other clone marketers.
(Denny Crane: "Sometimes you can only look for answers from God and failing that... and Fox News".)
I don't see how this thing can be more powerful than any PC today, but thats what I heard. I did see it on MTV and it does look like a PC, they had it standing on end like a tower. And its white, at least thats the color it looked like.
There's the 'cell processor' too, which this guy doesn't mention. I'm not a tech geek so I can't say much about it except that its Sony's attempt to overtake Intel, heh. This is a like some kind of tech war.
Not sure I like the idea of everything going through Google... seems like it'd be too easy then to censor stuff, either by Google or by the gov't using Google.
It's TiVo and Sony that MS will probably crush, though I'm surprised that MS didn't simply buy tiVo outright to gain home-theatre marketshare.
Make the new XBox also function as a DVR, and suddenly your gamers don't need TiVo...plus they can download new games and custom graphics for their favorite games.
So 1 new XBox replaces what the Sony Playstation and TiVo DVR once combined to do...making both obsolete in a single move.
Oh, and make the new XBox yourself in-house so that you can expand into the home tech hardware market in a big way at the expense of the marginal players such as Gateway.
Who ever said that games weren't serious?!
Now things are getting interesting!
XBOX 360 is gonna rule.
The last one was already considered a PC. You could hack it and put Linux on it and have a cheap PC. I would imagine one could do the same with this one. :P
Interesting, but I remember reading four or five years ago about how there had been a paradigm shift and we'd all be getting free internet, free long distance, and even free electric power in the near future. I never quite understood the business model that was supposed to bring all this about while still turning a profit to the people providing it. Turns out they didn't either.
We'll see where all this goes.
Another point to ponder is this: If Google (or whoever) controls the internet pipeline, they de facto control the content.
I'm in the camp that media PC's are going to be the future, and that the Xbox2 will have limited appeal because most users won't pay for the redundancies. Households will spend those electronics dollars on their first blue laser disc player, first HDTV, or first dolby 9.1 system. Buying a PS3 will provide the blue laser player, provide content for the first HDTV, and (hopefully) provide streaming media for the new sound system.
Of course, Sony will have to provide the ability to connect to Windows PC's to stream media now.
Of course, since more Xbox2's will be sold than G6 generation Apples, MS will control the supply of chips.
I am certain console gaming systems will not replace PCs.
Consoles are good for two things:
1. Cost advantages from being stripped-down boxes soley for playing games.
2. Uniformity: games will play effortlessly on a single system without the developer having to worry about the endless different configurations of PCs
1. Useless for doing anything productive.
2. Quickly becomes obsolete and cannot be upgraded.
3. Rigid software making it very difficult to customize to individual's needs.
The telephone companies carry the internet traffic as a common carrier. VoIP is just TCP/IP networking with voice content, but it travels over transmission facilities owned by the telephone companies. VoIP is just taking the directory number switch out of the equation for desktop to desktop voice traffic. If you actually connect to a real telephone with a directory number, the phone company is still delivering traffic to the end user.
Yes, and who controls Google? Some very big liberal Democrats. :-(
You can say what you want about the paradigm shift where we were supposed to get free internet and LD and say it didn't come through but....
Dial up internet costs have gone down more than 50% on average. From $19.95 to $9.95. Broadband costs have gone down by 30%+ considering my first DSL package was $44.95 for 768/128 and is now $29.95 for 3.0/768.
LD 5 years ago was still 5 cents a minute for your home land line. I now pay $60 for home and unlimited local, regional and LD. That's 1,200 minutes at 5 cents a minute. Running an at home business I use that in 5 business days. So you can basically say my LD costs have decreased 70% in 5 years.
I don't know where you come from but to me that's overwhelming progress.
Oh, and the Xbox 360 is more of a Trojan Horse than any industry insider has really admitted. No one is paying attention to their phrase "Those who use Windows Media OS will recognize the GUI immediately." If you don't think you won't be able to use this for Office functions within 2 years.... you're blind.
companies like Rogers aready markets a VoIP system. you don't need a pc, or an xbox just plug it in and go.
Free except for the cost of the VoIP system. Canadian telephone companies are freaking out about it.
If MS is going to Power PC processors, that means they can get out from under all the vulnerabilities of the x86 processor that have so annoyingly echoed up through the Microsoft OS for so long, does it not?
Plus, you can take it with you anywhere you go, or move to, call anywhere in the world. All you need is a phone jack.
Yes, Microsoft can get their PowerPC chips built to spec. Microsoft also bought Connectix recently, so they own the "Virtual PC" x86 emulator which already works on PowerPC. I think they'll use that emulator to run first-generation Xbox games - but they could also use it to boot Windows on the Xbox 360.
As others have said, though, this thing is supposedly poised to do most of the low-end computing tasks that home users typically use their PC's for. And at 300 bucks or so, which is the number I've seen cited elsewhere, it's priced so you won't feel too bad about buying a new one every couple of years. And CNET reports that it'll be compatible with the new Longhorn OS, so somebody is thinking ahead.
I think it's too early to tell, but this thing might have potential as far as making inroads into the home PC market.
Would you be talking about the chip's architecture?
I recall the old Motorola 68x chips were "clear", in that you could (and did) load your OS onto the computer every boot-up, and that memory was loaded from "bottom-up", while the X86 "partitioned" memory usage and loaded memory above a certain address...
That's my best recollection of the differences..
At any rate, with my old 68x system, I could use a different OS, like Unix with my machine simply by booting a Unix disk, or replacing the OS chip on the motherboard with a Unix chip..
Is this the case here with Power PC?
And is it a Motorola descendent?
There is little information available on the processor, but if you follow this link to a preview on anandtech about the xbox 360 and click on the PPE link in the forth paragraph there is some interesting info on what may be used.
Opps...link here http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=2414
Link to a more in depth preview: http://www.hardocp.com/article.html?art=NzY4
Intel is going to be mighty embarrassed if an emulator on a PowerPC chip is as fast as a P4.
Thanks for the links.. That first one has some of the basic info I need for further research on the CPU architecture and memory management..
From my first link: The PPE is a new core unlike any other PowerPC core made by IBM. The PPE is kept simple purposefully, although it has the base functionality of any modern day, general purpose microprocessor. The role of the PPE in Cell is to handle the tasks that any general purpose microprocessor would run; basically, anything that you could run on your Athlon 64 would be run on the PPE.
In other words, no emulator is needed.
I surely would be. I don't hold myself out as any kind of expert, so I'd encourage you to use Google to clarify the differences between the Power PC chip and others.
The Power PC Chip does indeed have some Motorola parentage, along with IBM. I'm not sure who is currently manufacturing which versions.
The chip arcitecture of the power PC chip apparently doesn't have the buffer overflow issue that has been used in exploits against machines using X86 CPUs.
Isn't that the same processor that Apple uses in the Mac. Dell killer? What about Intel and AMD? Is Microsoft FINALLY admitting that Apple has been right all along. Perhaps it will run OS X 10.4 Tiger.
PwerPC, eh? Then Microsoft really is stabbing Intel in the back.
I don't think so. I think the great majority of the PPC chips made are going to DOD. As far as I know, all new military embedded processors have been PPC for years now, since Intel bailed out of the market five years ago.
It can pipeline large video payloads but it won't compete with Intel.
The only reply I can think of is....
"All your base are belong to us!"
VoIP phones *are* real phones. And those with cable broadband and VoIP service are completely off the telephone company grid, e.g., not a trace of Verizon in the house.
In a world of global directories there is no rational reason to marry a VoIP telephone *exclusively* to a numeric address, i.e., 202-555-xxxx
"VoIP phones *are* real phones. And those with cable broadband and VoIP service are completely off the telephone company grid, e.g., not a trace of Verizon in the house."
Except when the voice packet is terminated on a PSTN service to complete the call. It could then still be going over Verizon's Network. With VOIP the future would be dialing an IP address instead of a traditional POTS number. But that is still down the road a bit.
Correct, but we're way beyond proof-of-concept here, and it's demonstrable that Verizon is no longer technically necessary for precisely the reason you state below:
With VOIP the future would be dialing an IP address instead of a traditional POTS number. But that is still down the road a bit.
Think about it.
You're on an IP "telephone", so you have IP and presumably Web access, which means you can Google. You look up "Joes Pizza, Anytown" and get a result.
If Joe's Pizza *also* has its VoIP IP address associated with that Google directory entry, you're done. Click on the (imagined) GoogleDial button.
Even if you're on a DHCP network with private address space, there's no reason Google couldn't have a small app update the Google directory entry with your IP address every 10 or 15 or 30 minutes. Thus, clicking on your Google directory entry would eliminate the need for a telephone number.
I give it one year or two (max) to go experimental on Google.
Bye bye Verizon.
Microsoft is specifically refusing to say either way, whether old XBox games will play on the new system. My guess is "probably not" which means you would have to buy the same games over again.
with each PS3 sporting 4 (!!!!) IBM CELL chips (*each* CELL w/ a G5 and 8 Altivec processors on steroids) which boils down to what, the theoretical power of 16 or so Opterons?
the XBOX was reported now, (faked like all get out since it wasn't ready) to beat the PS3 gala. if they had tried to roll XBOX out after that, they would have been laughed off the stage...
the author of this piece is pretty ignorant IMHO. the PS3 is designed for everything he claims the XBOX will be able to do, and about 10 times faster, and IT is coming out in just a few weeks... the XBOX is *NOT* the upward bend in the knee by any means whereas the CELL really is. if Apple can stuff the CELL into a MAC, watch out!